Diving Deep with the Urban Institute: Neighborhood Surveys

22 Aug 2013 | Sarah Gillespie, Urban Institute
Diving Deep with the Urban Institute: Neighborhood Surveys

We know many grantees spend a lot of time on the topic of neighborhood surveys.  Collecting data through a neighborhood survey is critical for measuring overall trends in the neighborhood throughout the initiative (not just among direct participants) and much of the information sites need to collect is likely not available from other sources. Conducting a good survey is a complicated process. It may be worth considering hiring survey experts or firms to assist with the surveys, depending on the Promise Neighborhood team’s expertise in this area.

To help untangle some of the common challenges around neighborhood surveys, we’ve collected a couple commonly asked questions and answers as well as a couple highlights from sites currently engaged in various stages of the survey process.  The Urban Institute provides technical assistance for neighborhood surveys, and other grantees are a wealth of knowledge in their own experiences and expertise!

Q: How should sites define baseline data—when and how is it collected?

A: Year 1 is the baseline for Promise Neighborhood grantees.  Sites should complete the neighborhood survey in the first year, if at all possible, to collect baseline data on the GPRAmeasures collected through the survey.  School climate surveys are also collected in year one.  The Guidance Document recommends the neighborhood survey be conducted every other year with in-person interviews, while the school climate survey can be an annual self-administered questionnaire given to students to complete themselves.

Q: How are the intake process and the neighborhood survey different?

A: Intake information is collected for each child and family member who is enrolled in the Promise Neighborhood initiative.  The neighborhood survey is collected on a representative random sample of households in the neighborhood, not just the population participating in services. Intake information is stored in the case management system and the neighborhood survey will be stored separately as part of the Promise Neighborhood’s longitudinal data.  GPRA measures should be collected for both participants (annually in the case management system) and the neighborhood (every other year through the neighborhood survey).

DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative Highlight—survey outreach

DCPNI planned a public awareness/marketing campaign throughout the month before the survey including e-mails, flyers, and knocking on doors. The team is also planning outreach at school events which attract many parents. DCPNI has also been working with neighborhood churches, housing communities, and other community leadership groups to help get the word out. These groups requested a simple one-pager describing the survey and a short PowerPoint to present to their respective audiences. The outreach will communicate the survey timeline, data confidentiality, and the importance to the community. 

East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood Highlight—fielding the survey

East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood students

East Lubbock obtained the services of the University of Kansas to do the sampling plan for their survey.

They hired and trained community residents through Goodwill Temporary Services who met every weeknight for a week at a community center in East Lubbock at 5 p.m.  Spanish-speaking and English-speaking teams were assigned to census blocks, driven to their areas and returned to the Center at 7:45 p.m. to turn in their paperwork and sign out.  Two staff remained at the community center throughout the survey times to monitor calls from teams and drivers.

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhoods—field the survey

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood

The Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood planning grant used Promotoras recruited partly from the Chula Vista Community Collaborative (CVCC) and through word of mouth within the community.  CVCC is a nationwide leading agency that specializes in teaching the Promotora Model. The mission of the Promotora Program is to assist community residents in achieving optimal levels of health, well-being and community safety through neighborhood and school outreach strategies that focus on prevention and education. Promotoras are local Spanish-speaking residents who serve as liaisons between their community and integrated health and family support programs.  After training, Promotoras were paired with Research Assistants from the survey and evaluation firm for conducting door-to-door interviews.

Survey Resources

Urban Institute Guidance document for Promise Neighborhoods


American Statistical Association in PDF and interactive format


Designing questionnaires


Methodology pieces UI published as part of its National Survey of America’s Families


Astoria Houses Neighborhood Survey for Zone 126 Promise Neighborhood